Integration of a Wigner effect-based energy storage system with an advanced nuclear reactor

R Ponciroli and N Stauff and ZG Mei and P Shriwise and L Brockmeyer and Y Cao and B Feng and P Romano, NUCLEAR ENGINEERING AND DESIGN, 385, 111521 (2021).

DOI: 10.1016/j.nucengdes.2021.111521

In this work, an innovative energy storage concept based on the purposeful creation of defects in crystalline material by neutron irradiation is presented. Lattice defects are generated when heavy particles collide with the atoms in a crystal structure, i.e., if the incoming particles have enough energy, recoil atoms are displaced from their initial lattice sites. Most of the displaced atoms will eventually combine with nearby vacancies, but some of them will come to rest in non-ideal locations. The energy held by displaced atoms is called Wigner energy. Lattice defects can migrate and form clusters, and the Wigner energy can be released from these groupings if sufficient activation energy is provided. In the nuclear industry, this effect is well-known since it represented an issue for graphite-moderated reactors. This work presents the conceptual design of an engineering system that exploits this physical process to store the energy of neutrons in advanced reactor concepts. In the first part of the paper, the theoretical performance of an energy storage system based on the Wigner effect is described. Given the lattice properties and the compatibility with the harsh reactor environment, graphite was selected as the candidate material for the irradiation targets. Both experimental data and molecular dynamics simulations confirmed that this system can achieve performance comparable with state-of-the-art batteries in terms of stored energy density. In the second part of the paper, the engineering challenges of this innovative technology and the proposed solutions are described. After defining the optimal irradiation conditions, the different steps of the operation of the proposed energy system (from energy storing to energy harvesting) were defined. Finally, the integration of this concept with advanced reactor designs, i.e., a Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor and a Molten Salt-cooled Reactor, was investigated and the corresponding performance was evaluated.

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